Heartbreaking Video Shows 2 Young Orcas Trying to Save Dying Older Whale
A whale watching expedition off the northern coast of Norway recently observed the apparent natural death of an adult male orca, which two younger orcas attempted to save. And experts believe the footage may be the first ever recorded.
Pierre Robert de Latour, who authored the book Frère des Orques (Brother of the Orcas) and goes by the moniker “Pierre, the Orca Whisperer” online, was on the expedition north of Loppa Island on Nov. 6. He saw the approximately 35-year-old male orca, named “Hunchy” by researchers after his hunched back, behaving “strangely” as two younger orcas huddled next to him.
Robert de Latour told Live Science that the pair’s attempt to keep Hunchy afloat seemed “desperate” and that “it was obvious that he was in trouble.” When he got into the water to snorkel up and take a closer look, he noticed that Hunchy looked skinny and that the shape of his belly suggested he hadn’t eaten for a long time. The two younger orcas would swim back and forth between Hunchy and another nearby group of orcas, repeatedly circling back to try to “activate” him.
But eventually, after about 50 minutes, the two younger orcas gave up and the subsequent footage shows Hunchy floating motionless just below the ocean’s surface. Orcas can stay submerged for up to 15 minutes, but typically come to the surface to breathe once a minute while resting and three to five minutes when traveling.
“It’s the first time for me seeing something like this,” said Robert de Latour, who has been diving with orcas in Norway for over 20 years. “I recognized him—it was very emotional—and then I saw his giant body sinking. It is said that orcas don’t abandon individuals that are in trouble.”
“They were helping him until the very last moment,” Robert de Latour added.
However, it’s currently unclear whether the scene Robert de Latour witnessed were indeed Hunchy’s last moments. An hour or two later, a second boat apparently witnessed the same efforts, but couldn’t conclude whether Hunchy was able to swim back up to the surface.
The orca expert surmised that the old whale is “probably dead now.”
Filipa Samarra, a research specialist at the University of Iceland and the founder and principal investigator of the Icelandic Orca Project, told Live Science that the footage might be the first time the death of an adult orca has been filmed in the North Atlantic, and possibly the world.
“To my knowledge, the death of an adult member of the group, and how the other [orcas] behave in that instance when an adult is dying, is something that has not been observed before,” Samarra said.